Monday, January 16, 2012

Origin of Mass

This is a good, "light-weight" article for the general public on what we think is the origin of mass. And no, it is not all due to this Higgs boson, or doughnuts!

It is commonly said that nucleons are made of three quarks, which is true to a point. It is logical to think that each quark has one third the mass of the nucleon, but that's not actually true. The mass of the three quarks in the nucleons make up only about one to two percent of the mass of the nucleons. What makes up the other 98 percent?

This is where things get cool. First, you need to know that a nucleon is not a static object with three ingredients. A nucleon consists of three very light quarks held together by the strong nuclear force. Those three quarks are moving at high velocities inside the nucleon. To picture this, imagine three ping pong balls in a lottery machine. Those ping pong balls aren't the most important thing; rather, you should focus on what's forcing them into motion. Think of nucleons as three quark flecks, tossed furiously inside a little subatomic tornado. The tornado is far more important than the tiny flecks.
The Higgs only comes in the explanation for the mass of the quarks themselves, which obviously is only 2% of the mass of a nucleon.

Isn't it interesting that the "god particle" plays such an insignificant role in this case?


1 comment:

KeyLargo said...

I have thought the same thing ever since I watched Lawrence Krauss's lecture at the Ted. He gave a great presentation about the recent thinking about the origin of the Universe, and also how nothing can be something. He showed the graphic from the recent Nobel Lecture about the same thing you are talking about here, how the space between the quarks is where the mass of the neutron and the proton is. I really like the way you communicate the complex and make it understandable to laymen. Feynman said I can't remember the exact quote that the mark of really understanding something is related to how well you can communicate the information to people who don't understand. He would be really excited about the great machines but he would be more excited by the great questions being asked.